Wednesday 29 October 2014

Cooking the Books – an introduction

I’ve had an idea, which, the more I consider it, is a bit stupid. For a start, it’s going to involve quite a bit of cooking, and not the ‘old familiar’ type either, but new recipes I haven’t cooked before. You see, I have over 30 cookbooks, ranging from many Jamies, to Heston and back to the older Hamlyn types, but never use them. I tend to stick to a few firm favourites, despite almost continuously browsing the lovely pictures: I’m a particular fan of how Nigel Slater writes, and find his gentle words soothing and comforting, along with the simple yet tasty ideas. Jamie’s are always packed with delicious flavours and Heston’s? Well, I haven’t actually tried that one yet.

The Challenge:

Cook a starter, main and dessert from each of my 36 books, that’s 108 recipes;

Begin with the ones I’ve never cooked from;

Include Heston (even though it’s not technically my book);

Complete the challenge within the year (52 weeks – 4 for holidays = 48 weeks. That’s 2.25 a week!)


Those of you who know me will also know I’m not very good at following recipes. I have a tendency to glance through, collecting some of the ingredients together and foraging in the cupboards for the rest, then resorting to using something similar, but not quite right. I foresee this happening quite a lot over the next few months – heaven knows what’ll happen with the desserts – so I’m also going to include a ‘Cheat & Change’ option in each post, which I hope to write once a week. If the recipes can be found online, I’ll simply create link to each, otherwise, be prepared for a shortened, Hannah-style version that rarely includes weights and measures! I’d like to focus more on the end results, tastes and learning (!) that goes on.

If you’ve read Julie & Julia, the story of how a New York based writer, Julia Powell, cooked her way through Julia Childs’ tome, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’, you’ll know she attempted to cook 524 recipes in a year. Thank goodness my challenge isn’t that huge, and hopefully, it’ll be much less stressful, but we’ll see!

Get Involved!

Like & share my new Facebook business page where you’ll find updates & links to new posts on the blog

Follow me on twitter @direbonappetit

Post your own ‘Cooking the Books’ photos and comments on the Facebook page and on Twitter using the hash tag #recipeasy

Comment, both on Facebook but especially on the blog posts. There’s a section under each post which gives you the opportunity to share your ideas.

So, that’s it. I’m scared now, but excited about which book to choose first. Maybe not Heston hey?

Let the cooking commence!


Damn…I found another! And, surprise, surprise, it’s a Jamie!

photo (2)


Slow Cooked Lamb and White Bean Stew



I picked up one or two of those recipe cards on the way out of Waitrose the other day in the hopes of inspiring me to try a few new recipes, and this one caught my eye. I, as usual, changed the quantities to bulk it out a bit, adding an extra carrot and celery stick, and a leek: I also never have lamb stock so substituted a little veg. but mostly beef stock instead. And the spinach was baby red chard.


Cheat: Use a pack of pre-prepared winter root casserole vegetables and ready-made stock.


1 tbsp olive oil
350g  British Lamb, diced
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
2  potatoes, peeled and diced
400g can Borlotti Beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp Tomato Purée
500ml lamb stock
260g Spinach


In your new purple cast iron pot – oops, sorry, that’s just me finding more ways to use mine! - heat the oil and cook the lamb, bacon, onions, celery and carrot (and leek) for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for a further minute.

This casserole doesn’t need thickening with cornflour or plain flour as the potatoes and beans release enough thickener of their own! Stir in the potatoes, beans, tomato purée and lamb stock. Now, the real recipe says to cover and simmer gently for 50 minutes until the lamb is tender, but if you want even better flavours and lamb that falls apart, I’d say two hours on a low simmer is a minimum. Mine bubbled gently for about three hours, then I turned the heat right down to keep it warm until I served it.

Just before serving, stir in the spinach until wilted. Serve with chunky bread to dip!


Saturday 25 October 2014

Pot Roast Chilli Butter Chicken with Squash

After my recent birthday, I had a little spending money and have always wanted a Le Creuset cast iron pot. My birthday money, however, didn't stretch that far, but I was able to buy a cheaper version, and in purple too! Cast iron is cast iron, surely? So, after a 50 minutes round trip to buy it, I couldn't wait to try it out. We had family visiting on Sunday so rather than the traditional roast dinner, I found a pot roast recipe which both used my new pot, and the chicken and leftover squash form the fridge. Perfect.
It's a ‘delicious magazine’ recipe. Those of you who read regularly will know I don't tend to do weights and measures, especially in savoury cooking so bear with me. If you want the scaffold to follow, the link to the real recipe is here, otherwise, putting in however much you want will do the trick! 
Oven 200 fan.
Chicken Butter rub:
Chicken (1.6-1.8kg) Butter, chopped red chilli, crushed garlic, lemon zest, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Cream everything together for the rub and gently spoon under the skin from the neck end (remember,chickens are upside down!). Squash it all in between the flesh and the skin. 
Squeeze the remainder of the lemon over the chicken and pop the two halves into the cavity. 
Other ingredients:
Butternut (or any other orangey) squash, cut into chunks
Shallots, finely sliced
Garlic, sliced
Glass white wine
Chicken stock
In your hob to oven pan, fry off the shallots over a medium heat until softened.
Add the garlic, fry for a couple of minutes.
Then tip in the squash and wine.
Reduce by half. 
Nestle the chicken amongst the veg and pour the stock until it reaches half way up the chicken
Bring to a boil on the hob, pop on the lid, then transfer to the oven for an hour. 
Remove lid and cook until the top is crisped and the juices run clear. Should only be another 20 minutes max. 
That's it. We found it made a nice change from the usual, and still served with roast potatoes, but with a lump of crusty bread to dip into the juices, it would make a delicious Sunday evening supper in front of the fire.
(Apologies for the picture - didn't have camera to hand and ate it too quickly after cooking to take a picture of it looking crispy and delicious - this was before it had cooked! )

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Easy Peasy Simple Fruit Crumble

A bit like my attempts at bread, I’ve never been able to get crumble right. It’s often too heavy, too lumpy, too thick, and even when I’ve cooked the topping separately, it still hasn’t been particularly nice. This year, however, I seem to have cracked it! I think there seem to have been three key things that have come together to enable this:

1 – the right quantities of ingredients

2 – not overworking the flour

3 - not putting the topping on until ready to cook

So, with these three things in mind, you can begin to bake.


Choose which fruits you like – I always find pear and berries are a winning combination but usually use whatever’s to hand. This time I used a cooking apple, ripe eating pears, plums and raspberries.

If the fruit is hard, such as the apple and pear, cut into chunks, sprinkle with brown sugar and pour over a little water before steaming in the microwave, or a pan, for a few minutes until starting to soften. Combine all the fruit in an ovenproof dish.

While the fruit is softening, make the crumble topping:

120g plain flour,

60g butter

60g soft brown sugar

Handful of plain porridge oats

Rub the flour, butter and sugar together until it resembles crumbs, but try to keep a light touch to this using just your finger tips. And DON’T do it for too long! Once combined, add and stir in the handful of oats.

Check the amount of liquid in the fruit – if there’s too much, tip a little out, but ensure you reserve some or the crumble will be dry and cloggy.

Just before cooking, tip the topping over the fruit mixture and even out.

Pop into a high oven, about 180 degrees c, for between 30 and 40 minutes, or until the topping is beginning to brown and the juices are bubbling through.

I know many people prefer custard with crumble, but I love a large pouring of double cream.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Hearty Beef Stew with Dumplings

Beef stew has to be a classic dish across Europe in one form or another. Be it Boeuf Bourgignon or the Romanian Tocata de Vita, it’s one of our favourites, and as it’s so easy to make with virtually anything you have to hand, can be a staple throughout the colder months. I find it especially useful when trying to use up those leftover veggies hanging around at the back of the fridge!

I already have a Beef in Beer / Guinness recipe on the blog, and a child-friendly beef stew version using the sweeter vegetables, such as carrots, and fruit, but this on is a heartier recipe, particularly when served with dumplings.

Feel free to use whatever needs using up: This week, I had two Gem Squashes (a real pain in the neck to peel, for future reference) and a delicious portion of braising beef. I always use the slow cooker as I can brown everything the night before, then simply turn on in the morning. I also always place the cooker on the ceramic hob (turned off, obviously!)…just in case.


Cheat: buy ready chopped beef and veg and use premade stock.

Ingredients: onions, squash, carrots, beef, red wine, stock, marmite, redcurrant jelly.


Begin by frying off the chopped onions, then as they’re beginning to soften, add the rest of your vegetables, chopped into good sized chunks. Squash and purple carrots went into our pot.

Once beginning to colour, remove. Add a little more oil and pop the chopped beef in with a large handful of plain flour. Fry off until browned and remove from the pan.

Pour a large glass of red wine into the pan to deglaze and bubble until reduced by half. When done, add beef stock and a dollop of both marmite and redcurrant jelly. Season.

Throw everything into the slow cooker, leave over night for the flavours to infuse, then turn onto low in the morning. You could also put this into the oven at about 120 for 6/7 hours. Well, until the beef is falling apart.

About an hour from the end of cooking, check the thickness…if you need to add another handful of flour to thicken, mix some in a little pot first with a ladle of the beef sauce before adding to the stew itself. Then leave the lid off on high for half an hour.

Make up some quick and easy Jamie Dumplings – 250g self raising flour, pinch of salt, 125g unsalted butter and 100ml cold water. I always add chopped parsley and rosemary. Bring ingredients together until they form a ball then split into smaller balls. Don’t overwork the mixture or they’ll end up stodgy. Sit them on top of the stew, pop the lid back on and leave until fluffy.

Serve with stir-fried green veg for a splash of colour.

Once you’ve done the prep. for this meal, it cooks itself.


Monday 13 October 2014

Simple Tear & Share Bread Rolls

Bread had never been my strong point. My husband and I usually attempt to eat a small portion of the experiment, then the rest is left to wither and die in the bread bin. Hard, heavy, soggy … you name it, I’ve had that bread disaster. So I was amazed when these tear and share rolls actually worked! The first time, they weren’t cooked for quite long enough, but after a little trial and error, 25 minutes is the perfect time in my oven.


I’ve tried numerous recipes for bread, but haven’t seemed to succeed, really succeed, with any. My best attempts were my flowerpot loaves. But after a visit to Dun Elm, I picked up a Mason Cash flower shaped bread mould and there was a recipe on the back, so, with nothing to lose, I tried it out…and it worked! And it was really, really easy, but you do have to plan your next few hours around the bread as it’s most delicious when still warm from the oven!


  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 7g sachet fast action yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for drizzling
  • 350ml warm water
  • Method:

    Oil or butter your bread form. You can simply use a round cake tin for this.

    Heat oven to 220 degrees celcius, 200 for a fan oven.

    Add the salt and yeast to the flour, one either side of the bowl.

    Make a well in the centre and add the oil, then most of the water.

    Stir until mainly combined then tip out onto a well floured surface. If it’s too crumbly, add the rest of the water. It should become less sticky and more stretchy within a minute of kneading, but if not, add a bit more flour.

    Knead, stretch, throw, etc. for ten minutes until elastic and shiny.

    Oil a bowl and pop in – cover with Clingfilm or a bag and leave somewhere warmish to prove for an hour.

    Once proved, tip out and gently roll into a long sausage. Split into seven equal sized pieces. At this stage, you can add any other flavourings, for example, sea salt and chopped rosemary, or olives and sundried tomatoes.

    Roll each piece into a ball – I stretch mine and make each into a spiral – then place in the tin or mould with one in the centre.

    Re-cover and leave for twenty minutes.

    Pop gently into the oven for 25 minutes and you’re done!


    Why not serve with this carrot, chilli and cashew nut soup?

    Tuesday 7 October 2014

    Basil Gnudi

    For those watching Jamie’s new ‘Comfort Food’ programme, this is an older variation of one of the more recent episodes, where he combined ricotta and sage. This basil version is equally delicious, but I would advise you to use the ingredients stated, rather than try to improvise by swapping semolina flour for whatever you have in the cupboard, for example, polenta, although it does work ok – ish!

    The recipe, originally from Jamie Magazine, is easy to follow, despite being a little messy in parts.



    • 2 large bunches of basil, leaves picked

    • 250 g fresh ricotta

    • 125 g parmesan, finely grated

    • 2 large free-range eggs

    • 1 free-range egg yolk

    • 75 g plain flour, plus a little extra

    • Semolina flour, for dusting

    • 15 g butter

    • 1 unwaxed lemon

    • 30 g grated pecorino, to serve


    Pop a pan on low heat, add 2/3 of the basil leaves and a splash of water…leave until wilted. Leave to cool then squeeze out the excess water.

    Put the leaves in a blender. Blitz with 75g of the ricotta. Transfer it to a large bowl and add the remaining ricotta, the parmesan and eggs. Whisk well until light and airy.

    Fold the flour into the ricotta mixture. It needs to be soft and moist but add more flour if it’s too sticky!

    Sprinkle a 5mm layer of semolina flour over a baking tray, and fill a piping bag with the ricotta mixture, cutting a 1.5cm opening. I use a freezer bag and cut off the corner! Pip strips down the tray leaving a small gap between each.


    Once piped, sprinkle a thick layer of semolina flour over the top, cut into 2–3cm pieces, cover with Clingfilm and chill overnight.


    Before cooking the next day, remove from the fridge and leave to come up to room temperature.

    Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat and add most of the leftover basil leaves. When the butter starts to bubble and the leaves have crisped up remove from the heat. I burnt the butter at this stage so be careful. If you do, start again – trust me, its unrescuable!. Finely grate in the zest of the lemon and season well. Set aside.

    Lower the gnudi into a large pan of salted, boiling water with a slotted spoon. Once they float to the surface, they're cooked – this should take about 1 minute. I left mine a little longer.

    Remove them with a slotted spoon, toss them in the lemon butter and serve with grated pecorino and the rest of the basil leaves on top.


    It’s well worth the effort and phaff for a change and to try something new. It’s also a child-friendly recipe for letting those little ones help out, with lots of mixing and stirring!

    Friday 3 October 2014

    Carrot, Chilli & Cashew Soup

    Every week, nearly without fail, the carrots arrive in one form or another in the veg box…but what to do with so many? Well, since I also had a chicken carcass, I decided soup was the best option.


    There was an interesting idea over at Abel and Cole in involving cashew nuts which sounded different from the usual soup ones. You can find the recipe here, but it’s generally very simple. It involves roasting carrots, grinding cashews till they resemble cashew-butter and adding stock and chilli powder (and/or flakes) to your taste and desired thickness. With a squeeze of lime and handful of fresh mint, this really is tasty. It also freezes well, making it perfect for those lazy Autumn Sunday evenings when you can’t be bothered to cook!


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